Thursday, 21 April 2011

Is obesity infectious?

Is being fat something you 'catch'? That's the rather bizarre suggestion being put forward by a group of American academics. (Listen to one of them - Margaret Campbell of the University of Colorado - tell you all about it.) The studies seem to show that the mere sight of someone obese - family, friends - can encourage you to eat more, piling on the pounds personally and possibly becoming obese yourself in the process.

Now, obesity is something of particular (though not personal) interest to me. Because I happen to live in what was once declared Fat Capital of Britain. This Lincolnshire market town (which I'll call Boston, chiefly because that's its name) was found to have the highest obesity rates of anywhere in the country back in 2006. But a lot has happened since then. For a start, economic migration has brought large numbers of svelte eastern Europeans (I'm talking about the ladies here) to the Borough, and that seems to have had as positive an impact on the body mass index as it has the totty total.

And the council has recently installed these strange contraptions in the park:

 Medieval instruments of torture maybe? 

Cruel children's playthings that tempt but are impossible to play on?

Neither. They're part of an out-door gym, and they've proved very popular. I've even seen the eastern European males pause from their daily consumption of industrial quantities of vodka to have a go. (Their female counterparts are all hard at work by day in the local produce packing factories.) And I've actually seen people queueing to get on to the equipment! Which begs the question, if obesity is something you can 'catch' by keeping obese company, maybe fitness and general health improves when you see other people exercising.

If anyone wants me to do some empirical research I'd be more than happy. I've always quite fancied a PhD, and I'm in a good position - from my study - to do some field observations.

But before we get carried away, what do you think of the original research? Can people 'catch' a high BMI? Could obesity really be infectious? Or is the whole thing a load of academic nonsense? I'd be more than happy to hear what you think. Especially if you're bringing the biscuits.
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